February 12th, 2006
I almost forgot about the sauna story I mentioned... well, here it is.I wrote it originally in Finnish, but since it was for one English writing community, I had to translate it. I know that there are some parts that don't flow that well, but... just ignore it, ok? ^^;
If you know Finnish, the original is posted here: http://community.livejournal.com/mysticquill/27764.html
In Christmas Sauna
The sauna stove hissed loudly as I threw water on it - a little bit too much water, apparently, since when the sudden heat hit me in the face it required a good deal of willpower not to bend down and cover my face with my hands. Grinding my teeth I threw more water on the stove and grimaced at its snappy hissing. Hiss you as much as you want, sauna's black oven, I'm not afraid of you.
For a moment I glared at the stove, frowning a little, but then I let the scoop fall from my hand into the tub, raised my feet on the railing, and leaned backwards with a sigh, closing my eyes. I was so freaking tired... it'd have been better if I could have come yesterday, but there was so much to do at work that I'd been too tired in the evening even to think about driving a few hundred miles. Not that it would have been the best way to start the Christmas Eve, to drive all those miles, but since I'd went and promised mother I'd come, I guess I had to. And still she had muttered something about whether something really was so important that you had to spend all day working just before Christmas. Couldn't understand that I didn't decide about that. She should have just been happy that I could come at all. I did have better things to do that nap in this sauna, after all.
Nap. With a start I opened my eyes and realized I almost had fallen asleep. I reached out drowsily and threw a little more water on the stove. This time the hiss was milder, and the heat didn't feel so bad anymore - on the contrary, a warm, gentle caress flowed from the stove, entered my muscles and relaxed them, making me even more listless than before. I guess I should take a snooze after sauna, before dinner. Otherwise I'd probably doze off at the table.
From the small window of the sauna room you could see a piece of black sky and a spruce that grew beside the sauna. The sky was clear, and as I stared through my half-closed eyes at the star that shone between the spruce's branches, I absentmindedly wondered if the northern lights would be out this night. Actually, I suddenly felt a weird urge to run out to see if the northern sky was just now flaming with red and green fire. I could almost imagine it: a small log sauna in the middle of a white vastness, above it the dark sky full of stars shining through the majestic, calmly waving aurora borealis. Just like once when I was a kid, when we had went to make snow angels from the sauna... there had been real magic in that night. Maybe, if I'd go now, just like then...
The thought was, of course, quite ridiculous. This wasn't the best time to see northern lights... and besides, mother's house was right beside the sauna, and the nearest neighbour lived just on the other side of the field. In the middle of a great nothingness, indeed. I snorted a little at my thoughts. Besides, in my age you weren't anymore that interested about making snow angels.
I closed again my eyes and leaned against the wall. Mother would wake me up when she'd come if I'd happen to fall asleep.
I'd have to spend the Christmas Day here, but the next day I'd probably be able to leave. Then, the day after that, I could start sorting out the problems first thing in the morning. All those bloody officials... just there to make life difficult. Some jump at you waving their regulations if you pay the bill before the due date - and just why that'd be a problem to anyone, that I don't get - others say that if this year's appropriation is used for the payment, it also has to be paid during this year. And what then, when some idiots put the due date on January, even though we expressly agreed that it'd be the last of December? Blasted bureaucrats, someone should stuff a lot of snow down their collars...
"That's right, girl. Just throw them with a snowball."
I woke up from my thoughts with a start and glanced around with wide eyes. For a moment I couldn't see anyone in the sauna, but then I noticed a very small old man sitting in by the stove. I stared at him with my mouth hanging open - just where had he come from anyway? He looked a little like a Christmas elf with his big grey beard and for the style of his clothing, but everything he wore was grey, and his face - or what was visible of it - was more wrinkled than remember my great-grandma's to have been.
"Well, girl," he said, "is that any way to greet old friends?"
"O... old...?" was all I managed to say.
The creature shook his head sadly. "As always... always they forget..." he raised his eyes suddenly to me and frowned. "And just now you were remembering the northern lights and the snow angels. Don't you really remember me?"
I blinked once and tried to think clearly. There was something weird going on but I wasn't completely sure what... I was still beyond tired. "Well, yes... umm, I guess there is something familiar in you after all... eh..." I fell quiet wondering how you address a sauna gnome.
"There you go," he said and winked at me. "Many times we did see each other when you were small, didn't we? At least once every year in Christmas sauna. But always they forget, always they forget..." He muttered something else, staring at the stove, but I couldn't hear what.
"In Christmas sauna, that's right," he said suddenly, just when I had been about to doze off again. "What would be a better place to enter into the spirit of Christmas, to calm down and wash away the dirt of the past year? Say that."
I wasn't completely sure if he was talking to me, to the stove - he was still staring at it - or just to himself, so I decided that I didn't have to answer him anything.
"They don't belong to the sauna, all the money matters and other worries," the gnome continued quietly and now he looked at me, so I nodded, just in case. Somehow he made me feel like a child again, being scolded by adults.
The gnome smiled a little. "And there she's sitting, so quietly... come on, tell me how you're doing these days. Last year you didn't come here, the year before that you were so busy the sauna barely realized it had a visitor when the front door slammed again. What news?"
"Well... nothing much..." I wondered for a moment what to tell this gnome. I didn't think he was interested about how the firm was doing. "There's nothing to tell, really."
The gnome shook his head. "Nothing, huh? There isn't a human being born to this world, alive and breathing who wouldn't have anything to tell. Think now girl, there must be something."
Well. Frowning I thought about it carefully - he was right, after all, there had to be something. What had I been doing with my life lately, besides working? It felt a little scary that I couldn't come up with anything.
The gnome glanced at the stove and scrambled to his feet, giving a small groan. Standing, he looked even smaller than when he was sitting down, barely three feet tall. He tottered away, and for a moment I wondered if he had grown tired of me. After a moment he did come back, though, carrying some chopped wood. The hatch of the stove opened with a creak and he put the wood in. For a moment he looked at the flames, nodded then approvingly and sat back down.
"In the summer when we went to swim we saw swans," I said suddenly. They had been really beautiful, two snow white birds swimming gracefully over the lake. "I've never seen a swan so close," I added, and the gnome nodded.
"They are fine birds, the swans are, no matter what some say. You just have to know how to treat them."
I nodded in my turn and leaned again against the wall. The warmth of the sauna felt good, even and damp in just the right way. I thought about throwing a little bit more water... A quiet hiss and the heat wave on my face told me that the gnome had done it for me.
"Thank you," I muttered, and he said quietly, "You're welcome." After that we didn't talk at all for a long time, just sat there quietly. And I didn't want to talk, not even to think; it felt good just to be there, enjoy the warmth and the silence, relax more fully than I had for years. The starry sky above us and the white snow and the unbroken silence around us came to my mind again. There was something very calming in that thought, and I grasped that feeling tightly hoping that I'd never lose it. Or... if I could keep it even for this Christmas, maybe I'd be able to defeat all the bureaucrats in the world next year. I wondered quietly what bureaucrats do during Christmas Eve. Do they also go to sauna with the sauna gnome and think about stars and silence? Maybe.
A quiet rustle by the stove made me open my eyes, and I saw that the gnome had got to his feet again.
"There's still work to do," he said and wiped soot of his clothes. "Merry Christmas to you. We will meet again next year, won't we?"
I nodded, smiling. "Of course. Merry Christmas."
Next moment the gnome was gone, and I heard the front door close. I sighed deeply a leaned again against the wall. I was feeling so wonderfully peaceful and relaxed...
"Oh my... are you sleeping?"
Mother's voice woke me up and for a moment I didn't realize what was going on. She stepped into the sauna and closed the door behind her. "Well, you have travelled a long way today, after all... hey, haven't you brought in the bath whisks?" She bent over and looked into the stove. "Well, at least she's added some wood," she muttered.
She left for a moment and came soon back with the whisks. As she threw a generous amount water on the stove she held the whisks above the steam, and a wonderful smell of birch floated into my nose.
"Maila called, that's why I took so long," she explained as she climbed on the sauna benches. "Here you are." She whacked my back a couple of times with another of the whisks, then gave it to me.
Mother threw more water on the stove and continued talking about something or other Maila had told her. I didn't really listen, I was watching the old black stove and thinking to myself. Thinking about childhood dreams, and angels, and starlit Christmas night and the deep peace it brought. Yes... today was Christmas Eve, and tomorrow would be Christmas Day.
"What are you smiling at?" mother suddenly asked, and I shook my head, partially as a respond to her, partially just to clear my mind.
"Hey," I said turning to look at her, "how about going to make some snow angels?"
I saw an interesting piece of statistics the other day, by the way: 15% of Finns go to church on Christmas Eve, 11% on Christmas Day... and 69% go to sauna during Christmas. ^^ I guess that tells something about its importance, even though many of the old beliefs and sauna rites have died away. Some traditions are still alive. For example, going to sauna is very often a part of a bachelor’s party, as a memory of going to sauna on the day before weddings. There the bride’s place has been decorated, and there are different rites to perform to make the marriage good. If there is someone in the group who wishes to get married she has to sit on the bride’s place. I don’t know if there are similar things for men, though...
Current Mood: sleepy
*bow* Thanks! Glad you liked it. ^^